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Diwa MarcelinoOh Canada!

By Diwa Marcelino

Jason Kenney
Jason Kenney, Minister of Employment and Social Development, hinted at looming reforms to the Live-in Caregiver program stating that it has ‘run out of control’ and was being used as a loophole for family reunification. In a press conference on June 25, 2014, Kenney said, “A very significant number of the participants in that program apparently were actually coming to work, ostensibly for relatives – somewhere around half of the participants.”

July 1, 2014 marks 147 years since Nova Scotia and New Brunswick joined Ontario and Quebec to become the country we call Canada. Even in its early days, immigration played a key role in the development of the country. For most of Canada’s history, the largest number of immigrants came from Europe. The first settlers came to what is now Canada in the 17th and 18th century from France, Britain, the United States and Western Europe. Immigrants originating from Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Ukraine and Poland followed in the 19th century, according to Citizenship and Immigration Canada.

It was only in the 1970s when non-European immigrants started settling in Canada in larger numbers. “Asian-born new immigrants increased to 38.9 per cent in the late 1970s. By the late 1980s, one-half (50.9 per cent) of the newcomers were born in Asia,” according to Statistics Canada. In 2012 the top source countries of immigrants were China, the Philippines and India.

In recognition of this rich and vibrant collage of cultures present in Canada, multiculturalism was adopted in 1971 as official policy. The term multiculturalism is now embedded in how we describe being Canadian, just as peacekeeping, hockey and universal healthcare have been proudly associated with our country.

Regrettably, multiculturalism hasn’t been part of our country’s historical legacy from the beginning. Our first Prime Minister, John A. MacDonald, an immigrant from Scotland, was known to harbour racist sentiments, commonly held, towards Chinese workers, even though they worked very dangerous jobs helping to build Canada’s railroads. “A Chinaman gives us his labour and gets his money, but that money does not fructify in Canada; he does not invest it here, but takes it with him and returns to China… he has no British instincts or British feelings or aspirations, and therefore ought not to have a vote” (Commons Debates, May 4, 1885, p.1582).

Last month B.C. Premier Christy Clark issued a formal apology for racist policies like the Chinese Exclusion Act and the Head Tax imposed on Chinese immigrants over 100 years ago. The Federal Government issued a similar apology in 2006 and promised compensation to those affected. In 1903, the $500 Chinese head tax was equivalent to two years wages according to the Chinese Canadian National Council. Both the Head Tax and Exclusion Act created lengthy periods of separation between workers and their families while many families did not reunite at all.

Fast forward 100 years later, complaints from critics of Canada’s current immigration policy bear certain resemblances, albeit less harsh, to issues Chinese workers raised before. The increasingly controversial Temporary Foreign Worker Program has long been accused of creating an exploitative working environment due to the lack of labour rights granted to workers. Exorbitant fees ranging from $5,000 to $10,000 paid to job agencies are also the norm for foreign workers wishing to land a minimum wage job. Family separation has also been an issue for foreign workers. While most foreign workers cannot stay in Canada and gain permanent residence, workers under the Live-in Caregiver program have, for the time being, been able to apply for permanent residence after completing 24 months of service within four years of working. But because of lengthy wait times, a permanent residence application can take over three years to process, leaving families separated for several years at least. For those who worked abroad elsewhere prior to coming to Canada, the separation from family could be twenty years or more.

Employment Minister, Jason Kenney made announcements last week that the Temporary Foreign Worker Program for low-wage jobs would be phased out over the next few years. This followed long-standing complaints that migrant workers were flooding the labour market and thus lowering wages – even though the government has had direct control over the approval of work permits and regulations purported to safeguard market wages. He also hinted at looming reforms to the Live-in Caregiver program stating that it has “run out of control” and was being used as a loophole for family reunification. Is this evidence that perhaps the government is abandoning its contentious Temporary Foreign Worker Program in favour of traditional immigration? Not quite. Canada’s new Expression of Interest model scheduled to debut next year marks a new chapter in the country’s evolving immigration system. The new model will allow employers to directly select immigrants from a pre-qualified pool of applicants based on job requirements – effectively putting immigration selection in the private sector’s realm.

Diwa Marcelino is the program coordinator for Migrante Manitoba.